Barri's Blogs from the Past

 

As Time Goes By



June 4th, 2013

Is love a constant that time cannot destroy? Many poets of the Victorian era argued for this premise. They contended that love is endless. It oversteps the bonds of time and extends into eternity.

Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote during this period. His poetry differed from other poetry being published in the Victorian age. He seemed then, as now, to find no middle ground with readers. They either loved his work, or hated it. I think he was a master wordsmith and I love his erratic, often transcendent poems. They present a challenge to me. Unravel this, they seem to say. Untangle the disparities I present to you.

In his poem titled Stage Love, Swinburne put forth the paradoxical argument that, in the struggle between love and Time, Love may be successful, but Time is triumphant. In four melodic and measured couplet quatrains he unfolds a drama that begins as a comedy.

STAGE LOVE

When the game began between them for a jest,
He played king and she played queen to match the best;
Laughter soft as tears and tears that turned to laughter,
These were things she sought for years and sorrowed after.


Love is a game to be played on life's stage as He assumes the role of king. She is his pretend consort. Dreams sought for years and sorrowed after, take on an authenticity that is felt by the actors as well as observers. As time goes by, what began in jest slowly changes to take on a more somber tone. Tears mingle with laughter as reality replaces pretense.

Pleasure with dry lips, and pain that walks by night;
All the stings and all the stains of long delight;
These were things she knew not of, that knew not of her,
When she played at half a love with half a lover.


Heated pleasure gushed forth in the splendor of a moment's passion. The passing of time took on all the sting and all the stains of dry distress. The desire that once brought sensuous laughter and delicate delight is clouded by sentiment and companion to pain that walks by night.

Time was chorus, gave them cues to laugh or cry;
They would kill, befoul, amuse him, let him die;
Set him webs to weave to-day and break to-morrow.
Till he died for good in play and rose in sorrow.


Time becomes more that a passive passing entity. In a bold and challenging moment, He takes command of the chorus and in so doing, becomes the play's director, giving cues for tears and for laughter. The actors bide their time and play his game until, Time dies in play. When the first curtain falls, it drops not on frolic and amusement, but on a drama tinged with heartbreak.

Love wins. Time submits to the wiles of play-love and pretend-laughter. He perishes in the process. Like some ancient and primitive god, Time, for an encore, rises in sorrow to become, not the director, but an active participant in a tragedy.

What the years mean; how time dies and is not slain;
How love grows and laughs and cries and wanes again;
These were things she came to know and take their measure,
When the play was played out so for one man's pleasure.


The Queen loses her King. Resurrected Time converts comedy to tragedy. The twist of years exposes what the weaving of days cannot reveal: Love is Time's fool. In a span of passing years, on the stage of life, Love slays Time by growing, and laughing and crying, then waning again. When the final curtain falls, it drops on tragedy. Too late Love learns that Time dies only to rise again in sorrow and in triumph.

Stage Love

When the game began between them for a jest,
He played king and she played queen to match the best;
Laughter soft as tears, and tears that turned to laughter,
These were things she sought for years and sorrowed after.


Pleasure with dry lips, and pain that walks by night;
All the sting and all the stain of long delight;
These were things she knew not of, that knew not of her,
When she played at half a love with half a lover.


Time was chorus, gave them cues to laugh or cry;
They would kill, befool, amuse him, let him die;
Set him webs to weave to-day and break to-morrow,
Till he died for good in play, and rose in sorrow.

What the years mean; how time dies and is not slain;
How love grows and laughs and cries and wanes again;
These were things she came to know, and take their measure,
When the play was played out so for one man's pleasure.

Algernon Charles Swinburne


 

 

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